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Modern Poetry in China: A Visual-Verbal Dynamic By Paul Manfredi

Chapter 1:  Li Jinfa
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Modern Poetry in China:

Why must this type of subject be brought out into public view—Western cultural tendency is too focused on sexuality. I just can’t understand it, whether it’s in the church, or it’s on the palace walls, everyone’s naked. It’s really hard to take. (Chen 1994, 60)

In this Asian Woman, the unforgiving quality of human anatomy, a complex and intricate balance, leaves little room for error, and Li rose to the occasion. He represented the human form in highly detailed and anatomically correct form. This statue also harkens back to the work Li reportedly saw at the Musée du Luxembourg, the sculpture that changed the course of his life by setting him on a path in the arts. It also looks forward, to an article he would publish after having returned to China entitled “The Beauty of Women” (女性美 Nüxing mei), in which he extolled the importance of appreciation of the female form:

People capable of worshipping female beauty are people who feel the thrill of the unity of all life. Societies which can appreciate female beauty are evolved societies. The vapid and withered state of Chinese society is precisely because it lacks appreciation of female beauty. (Li 1928, 100)

Seen in this context, the previous image is curious. While the sculpture demonstrates Li’s competence as a sculptor, it is also a bit incongruous, particularly from the point of view of its texture. The taut muscularity of the torso is clearly in contrast, or perhaps conflict, with the smooth, supple head above it. The slight eyes are anything but a “mirror to the soul,” instead retiring and distant, again contrasting strongly with the corporality of the body. Li’s Asian Woman is a kind of clash of civilizations, a striking testament to both an idealized female figure from one tradition (above) and the idealized and naked human figure (below). The nakedness is itself important, as Li’s colophon indicates, its goal being the artist’s intention to introduce a new, modern, relationship between men and women and thereby adjust standards of modesty in a (modernized) Chinese cultural setting.